Zapata County, Texas, has been in the news for the way its residents voted in the 2020 Presidential election. The border county is named for Colonel José Antonio Zapata, a rancher who backed the secession of Texas from Mexico in the 1840s, and not for his more famous namesake, the 20th century Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. The county’s population is overwhelmingly Hispanic and far from wealthy, with the median household income being just under $25,000 US annually, as against $68,000 for the United States as a whole.

Candidates from the Democratic party gained a majority in Zapata County in every presidential election for a hundred years starting in 1916. Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 33 points in 2016. In 2020, Trump reversed the century-old trend, beating Joe Biden by 5 points.

How did a right-wing populist who demonised Mexicans throughout his first presidential campaign end up attracting so many working-class Hispanic American votes?

The answer is complex. Many Zapata County residents work in the state’s oil and gas industry, and were spooked by Joe Biden’s promise to wean the United States off fossil fuels. Cultural conservatism played a role, as did the fear of Covid-related lockdowns in any future Democratic administration.

But there is no...

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